The performance of vapor compression refrigeration cycles is limited by thermodynamics. These air conditioning and heat pump devices move heat rather than convert it from one form to another, so thermal efficiencies do not appropriately describe the performance of these devices. The Coefficient-of-Performance (COP) measures performance, but this dimensionless measure has not been adopted. Instead, the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) has traditionally been used to characterize the performance of many HVAC systems. EER is the Energy Efficiency Ratio based on a 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. To more accurately describe the performance of air conditioning equipment over a typical cooling season a modified version of the EER, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), or in Europe the ESEER, is used. SEER ratings are based on seasonal temperature averages instead of a constant 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. The current industry minimum SEER rating is 14 SEER.[dead link]
Some of these components can be repaired or replaced by the homeowner, such as filters, fuses, and clogged up drain lines. Coils, compressors and the other components are best left to a professional. In some cases, you may have a system that is so old that parts are no longer available or else they aren't up to code. In this case you will have to consider replacing the entire system.
In addition to the information below, see these two articles for the general care and maintenance of your air conditioner: Preparing Your Air Conditioner for Summer and How to Replace Furnace & AC Filters. Most noteworthy, you should replace the filters at least twice a year, before the heating and cooling seasons. For information on furnace problems, please see Furnace Not Working.